Have you ever tried to pick limpets off a rock? If so, you know how tight they cling. the limpet clings to the rock just in the same way as this leather does to the stone; the little animal exhausts the air inside it’s shell, and then it is pressed against the rock by the whole weight of the air above.
Perhaps you will wonder how it is that if we have a weight of 15 lbs. pressing on every square inch of our bodies, it does not crush us. And, indeed, it amounts on the whole to a weight of about 15 tons upon the body of a grown man. It would crush us if it were not that there are gases and fluids inside our bodies which press outwards and balance the weight so that we do not feel it at all.
This is why Mr. Glaisher’s veins swelled and he grew giddy in thin air. The gases and fluids inside his body were pressing outwards as much as when he was below, but the air outside did not press so heavily, and so all the natural condition of his body was disturbed.
I hope we now realize how heavily the air presses down upon our earth, but it is equally necessary to understand how, being elastic, it also presses upwards; and we can prove this by a simple experiment. I fill this tumbler with water, and keeping a piece of card firmly pressed against it, I turn the whole upside-down. When I now take my hand away you would naturally expect the card to fall, and the water to be spilt. But no! the card remains as if glued to the tumbler, kept there entirely by the air pressing upwards against it. (The engraver has drawn the tumbler only half full of water. The experiment will succeed quite as well in this way if the tumbler be turned over quickly, so that part of the air escapes between the tumbler and the card, and therefore the space above the water is occupied by air less dense than that outside.)
And now we are almost prepared to understand how we can weigh the invisible air. One more experiment first. I have here what is called a U tube, because it is shaped like a large U. I pour some water in it till it is about half full, and you will notice that the water stands at the same height in both arms of the tube, because the air presses on both surfaces alike. Putting my thumb on one end I tilt the tube carefully, so as to make the water run up to the end of one arm, and then turn it back again. But the water does not now return to its even position, it remains up in the arm on which my thumb rests. Why is this? Because my thumb keeps back the air from pressing at that end, and the whole weight of the atmosphere rests on the water at the other end. And so we learn that not only has the atmosphere real weight, but we can see the effects of this weight by making it balance a column of water or any other liquid. In the case of the wetted leather we felt the weight of the air, here we see its effects.